Tuesday, August 30, 2016


Deep Dive: The Aga Khan In Tajikistan

People in Khorugh protest against the killing of Imomnazar Imomnazarov outside the main administrative building  on August 22.
People in Khorugh protest against the killing of Imomnazar Imomnazarov outside the main administrative building on August 22.
For a week in late July, Tajikistan's Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province was in crisis. On July 24, two days after a top security official, General Abdullo Nazarov, was killed in Badakhshan, an estimated 3,000 government troops were deployed to the region.

A week of fighting ensued that claimed an estimated 70 lives on both sides. Fighters eventually agreed to lay down their arms on July 28 after negotiations with government forces and representatives of the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the Ismaili sect of Islam.

The situation seemed calm until the night of August 22, when Imomnazar Imomnazarov, a former opposition commander from the Tajik Civil War, was killed in an attack on his home in Khorugh, the administrative center of the region. Imomnazrov had been wanted by the authorities in connection with the Nazarov killing. Protesters flocked to the adminstrative building in the city center demanding security, pelting the building with rocks, and even attempting (unsuccesfully) to storm the building.

Two days later, again after negotiations involving local activists and representatives of the Aga Khan, government forces announced they would leave the Gorno-Badakhshan region altogether.

For an in-depth look at the Aga Khan and how his organization, the AKDN, functions in Tajikistan, we spoke with Faisal Devji of Oxford University. Read his piece on the AKDN at "Current Intelligence."

WATCH: Faisal Devji on the Aga Khan and civil society in Tajikistan

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Comment Sorting
by: zahina from: london
September 06, 2012 22:27
Few days ago there was an article published on your website " Five things to know about Aga Khan" and now this article, which I found at some point as an interesting perspective, however the article about Aga Khan is not a professional one, guys. These FIVE THINGS are far less important things to be mentioned, honestly. I know that you publish for a purpose, however, in this article your position is so obvious..... hope my comment will be posted.

by: DD from: US
September 06, 2012 22:43
Thank you for this interview, which in my opinion is an important addition to Dr. Devji's latest piece "Politics dies in the Pamirs." This piece has unfortunately been used by many as a way of placing the blame for all the misfortunes the Pamiris have had on the AKDN institutions which makes no sense. However this interview makes it clearer what the author was actually trying to say. I wonder if it would be possible to edit the article by way of adding the points made here to it so as to avoid the kinds of misinterpretations and, most importantly, misuse of the article as a means to political ends that are clearly not in the interest of the civil society in the region.

by: Noor from: Pakistan
September 07, 2012 17:14
The Aga Khan has, through his development actions, always emphasized on creation of an enabling environment where impoverished communities are able to "find hope" and break out of the cycle of poverty. If the AKDN is struggling this vision, then it is not because of the Aga Khan but because of the existing development theories, which the people working at the AKDN are trying to implement.

One cannot, should not, expect the AKDN to spoon feed the communities and based on my own experience, that's clearly what AKDN wants to achieve through its development interventions.

The development model will have to be reviewed because the region's, in fact the world's, demographic dynamics are changing. Gone are the days of the first generation of subsistence farmers. They have been/are being replaced by more educated, better informed and more mobilized communities.

This new generation of communities will find its way out, whether we like it or not.

The way out, in case of GBAO, is not necessarily continuation of the centrifugal drift. It can also mean a more resolute and more vocal local population, which might be a political liability for an autocracy like that of Rehmanov, but, generally, it is a blessing, as far as mobilization-for-self-reliance is concerned.

Rehmanov needs to learn from his likes in the middle east and mend his ways. If he continues with the politics of crush-rule-crush, then soon other forces will also turn against him and drive him out.

In the meanwhile, as a concerned person whose ancestors once nestled in the Pamirs, I would urge the Pamiri Ismailis to remain peaceful and law-abiding, as the Aga Khan wants them to be.

Mr. Faisal Devji has done the AKDN a great service by generating an academic discourse which can be useful for the policy executives working on the ground.

Having said all this, i would repeat what Mr. Devji said, "the role of AKDN in developing the region and helping tens of thousands of people break out of the shackles of poverty, is an achievement for which the Aga Khan deserves full credits. The Pamiris will be miserable, yet again, if the AKDN moves out, or is forced to move out, which is highly unlikely.
In Response

by: Amin Beg from: Gilgit
September 08, 2012 09:39
We may disagree with Devji's political lens or analysis, and may be the contextual details need more indepth analysis, but the truth is 'global civil society' that is shy of truly developing local governance capacities, create vulnerabilities in societies and states in transition and that oscillate between corrupt and dictatorial regimes, and aid-dependent, donor-driven civil society actions that are toothless and short-lived.

by: Seamason from: Vancouver, Canada
September 07, 2012 22:08
I find it remarkable that Devji's artcle and interview are felt to reflect "expertise" either on Tajikistan or on civil society ! Anyone with a semblance of historical and/or political grasp of Tajikistan's post-Soviet life would know that Gorno-Badkshan has a particular constitutional and regional place which has been highly contested, and in which the notion of AKDN somehow taking a political role would be to invite yet another civil war. Indeed, Devji seems to lack any understanding of what local and global "civil society" is really about. In both cases, there is a high level of dependence on functional rule of law and democratic culture. To expect AKDN to somehow foster this -- and take the blame when the country's ethis fails to deliver -- is preposterous. Just as silly is Devji's claim that civil society in the "Arab Spring" has failed to foster a new political order. Authoritarian regimes like Mubarak's Egypt, Ben Ali's Tunisia and Rahmon's Tajikistan have stifled both civil and political culture. The notion that civic organizations can overnight build a new order is something my first year political science students know is an absurd. Surely RFE can do better than take this amateurish tripe seriously ...

by: Catherine Fitzpatrick from: New York
September 10, 2012 18:08
Seamason has raised the right questions.

Aga Khan may do important development work, but it's a group with a religious and political agenda and that can't be overlooked.

Development groups of all kinds often make people dependent on them and seek out the poor and vulnerable because they are easy recruits for their ideology. Faith groups are an important part of civil society often discounted by the left, but they aren't the end of all civil society, which is diverse.

If Aga Khan was crucial in getting a cease-fire and an agreement to get prisoners released, great, that's a very important good deed, but that doesn't mean that their religious and political views then should prevail. Ultimately, they are outsiders as we all are, even if they are co-religionists.

There are still so many unanswered questions here. Who did kill the KGB officer? He may come have had an awful past or present of human rights abuses -- we don't know -- but that doesn't mean he should be assassinated. Who killed the former opposition leader in the civil war, which pitted corrupt Soviet secularists against Islamists who could be as bad or worse if they were in power? We don't know that either, and he doesn't deserve to die, either. No one wants the civil war to start again, in which tens of thousands were killed and the largest number of journalists in the world, outside of Algeria, were assassinated (more than 50).

There's a tendency, because analysts and human rights activists are frustrated and angry with these post-Soviet tyrants who crack down mercilessly and unjustly on all Muslims, to think that any Muslim dissenters and their helper groups are therefore heroic and noble. They even find them "cute". But they need to be looked at hard in terms of whether they support all human rights for all, especially regarding women's rights and freedom of expression. Victim status doesn't confer civil society status in the liberal sense.

Then their "development" has to be seen in context. Development for who, how? Development isn't just feeding the poor, if it involves keeping half the community uneducated.

I ask LOTS of questions about the way all sides of the conflicts in Tajikistan are being covered. I question the experts' claim to impartiality when they tend to excuse Islamist violence as "defensive jihad" in their quest to expose the evils of the tyrants and possible US complicity. This is a school of thought within the US government and policy community as well, which finds its way into RFE/RL -- that everybody else just doesn't understand the Tragically Misunderstood Artists of the region committing violence or exaggerates them in the quest for the "war on terror". It's like the old "anti-anti-communism" crowd.


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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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